Born in late May to first-time mother Java, the newest addition to Washington's Point Defiance Zoo is a pair of cuddly little Sumatran tiger cubs. “We want people to see them as soon as they’re ready,” staff biologist Andy Goldfarb said. Typically, tiger cubs venture out of the den around 8 weeks old. “They’re sure to be crowd pleasers, but they’ll also be educational ambassadors, bringing a note of optimism about their species directly to Northwest families.”
The two new cubs bring the total number of Sumatran tigers in North American zoos to 74. With fewer than 500 left worldwide, zoo staff stress the significance of the cubs to the species as a whole. “Sumatran tigers are among the world’s most critically endangered species,” said general curator Karenn Goodrowe Beck. “These cubs not only add to the overall population, but they also provide invaluable genetic diversity to the breeding program.”
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Tiger cubs, generally about 2 lbs. at birth, rely entirely on their mother for the first three months. The cubs at Point Defiance Zoo will live behind the scenes for several weeks, and visitors will have the chance to see them through a video monitor set up in the zoo’s Asian Forest Sanctuary. “They’re adorable!” Goldfarb said. “Seeing them on camera in these first few weeks is a real treat.” At about eight weeks old, tiger cubs are generally ready to leave the den with their mother, and staff will attempt to get the cubs into their exhibit around that time.
A third cub was born with the litter, but died during birth. “We’re heartbroken to lose one of them so early, but the rest of the group seems strong and active,” said staff biologist Andy Goldfarb. “We’ll keep a close eye on them as Jaya learns her role as a first‐time mom. But right now, we believe the remaining cubs will thrive.”
Point Defiance Zoo participates in the Sumatran tiger Species Survival Plan (SSP®), coordinated by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The SSP manages the Sumatran population in North America. The SSP made the recommendation that Point Defiance Zoo breed Jaya with the cubs’ father, Bali, last summer. At the same time staff confirmed Jaya’s pregnancy last month, Bali was diagnosed with cancer. A test on May 18 showed positive progress from Bali’s chemotherapy treatment by zoo veterinarians. “He’s not cured, but his life may be prolonged, thanks to the dedication and skill of our veterinary team and collaborating veterinary oncologist,” said Goodrowe Beck. “Visitors will be able to see him on exhibit while his cubs grow with mom behind the scenes.” The zoo will invite the public to vote on the cubs’ names once they are safely settled and staff are able to determine their sexes.